Governor Ralph Northam has announced a new statewide moratorium on eviction cases through June 28 as people struggle to pay rent amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Northam said he requested the Supreme Court of Virginia temporarily ban all eviction court proceedings while the Commonwealth prepares a new rent-relief program for housing-insecure Virginians.

Chief Justice Donald Lemons granted the request in an order to local courts Monday.

“Access to safe and stable housing is critically important, and this action will keep thousands of families in their homes as we work to get them the support they need,” Northam announced in a news release.

Virginia previously had a de facto ban on eviction cases due to COVID-19. From mid-March to mid-May, the Supreme Court halted all non-emergency court proceedings as courtrooms closed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus

But once courts reopened May 18 and began hearing non-emergency cases again, local judges quickly started processing evictions. Hundreds of eviction cases were scheduled across the state, prompting housing advocates to demand that Northam announce another moratorium.

For three weeks, he didn’t. He said Virginia was providing tenants other new forms of relief, including a 60-day grace period to catch up on missed rent if they could prove they lost income due to COVID-19.

Housing advocates pushed back saying many renters won’t know about the new protections until they’re already evicted.

The Virginia Poverty Law Center added tenants could be afraid to show up to an eviction hearing for fear of contracting the virus. The result could be a default judgement in which a judge ultimately approves an eviction because the landlord is present in court while the tenant is not.

Christine Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said the latest moratorium was a huge relief.

“We appreciate the recognition by both the governor and the justices of the Virginia Supreme Court of the importance of people being able to stay housed right now in the middle of this pandemic,” Marra said.

She noted there were over 1,000 eviction cases scheduled for the last two weeks of June in Richmond alone.

The new moratorium covers people who have lived in a hotel or motel for more than 90 days and are considered a tenant under state law. Marra added tenants are also protected if they’ve already received a court judgement approving an eviction but haven’t actually been evicted yet.

“All of those people can sigh a breath of relief and then pick up a phone and call an attorney,” she said.

The eviction halt does not protect people who have lived in a hotel or motel for fewer than 91 daysand are not tenants. 

Northam said he would soon announce more details about the new rent relief program for housing-insecure Virginians. He said it will rely on funding from the federal Cares Act.

Anyone in need of legal assistance can call the eviction helpline at 8-3-3 NO-EVICT